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Future Security

Software vendors need to develop operating systems and apps that are more secure and security tools that are easier to use

Memo from information security officers to the business-technology industry: Give us software that's built with security in mind from the start and security applications that are easier to manage. Develop tools that better prevent attacks and intrusions, rather than burglar alarms that don't give us time to avoid damage. Provide us with a clearer understanding of what's happening to our systems in real time and the tools to quickly change how we respond.

P.S. Do it now. We're under attack.

Today, businesses are forced to use and manage too many information-security applications from too many vendors. Consider the weapons available to a company: antivirus software for desktops and gateways; firewalls to guard networks, applications, and desktops; virtual private networks; network- and host-based intrusion-detection systems; honey pots to lure potential attackers; and intrusion-prevention tools to lock down servers and desktops.

John Hartmann, VP of security and corporate services for Cardinal Health Inc. Photo by Sacha Lecca.

There are no silver bullets when it comes to increasing the security of IT systems, Cardinal Health's Hartmann says.
Some users are resigned to the complexity. "There's really not going to be a silver bullet," says John Hartmann, VP of security and corporate services for Cardinal Health Inc., a $44 billion-a-year maker and distributor of health-care products and services. "We're going to have to apply multiple layers of security from best-of-breed solutions."

For others, though, it's a disaster waiting to happen. One large consumer-goods manufacturer has "bolted on" so many security tools to its networks and applications that there's no reasonable way to manage the infrastructure, says a security analyst at the East Coast company. "We have so many security-management consoles we can't keep up with all of the information. We have firewalls that haven't been updated in months and reams of security logs we haven't sifted through," he says. "I really couldn't tell you whether we've been hacked or not. I honestly don't know."

Vendors are well aware of the problem. The IT security industry "has to get faster, deeper, and smarter," admits Gene Hodges, president of antivirus and security software developer Network Associates Technology Inc. Unfortunately, he says, "it's going to take some invention to get there."

Security vendors are laying plans to address some of these problems in the next year or two. Three areas where change looks likely are security event-management tools that consolidate and correlate attack information across networks and applications, intrusion-detection and -prevention systems that also help ward off attacks, and emerging multipurpose network-security appliances that consolidate many security functions.

For users, slow progress is better than no progress. "We're in the adolescent stage of development, and growth is quick and awkward," Cardinal's Hartmann says. "Things are expensive and largely untested, and right now there are no clear winners in the information-security market."

First target: the one-size-fits-all security approach. Security event-management vendors such as ArcSight, Computer Associates, e-Security, Intellitactics, netForensics, and Symantec, which have products that collect and correlate information on the status of a company's security readiness, are working feverishly to develop capabilities to analyze how software flaws and hacker techniques can threaten a company's systems. "I need to know how external threats affect my particular company," says Daniel Kesl, chief information security officer at Newmont Mining Corp., the world's largest producer of gold. Kesl is investigating security event-management software but says he hasn't found a product that's a good fit for Newmont.

When a new virus or software patch is introduced, companies need to make sure they're protected. Security managers would like tools that help them manage that process in the same way IT help-desk software manages trouble tickets. "Workflow in this area has to improve," says Pete Lindstrom, director at analyst firm Spire Security. "Companies need to be able to take an incident or attack and address it in the proper way."

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